Mystery of the 364 Infantry Regiment
Mystery of the Three Sixty Fourth
Catch this video before it disappears down the “memory hole” yet again! It first aired on the History Channel in 2001 and discusses events described in Carroll Case’s book “The Slaughter: An American Atrocity.” In the book, Case describes a slaughter of black soldiers that took place at Camp Van Dorn near Centreville, MS during WWII. After this video premiered on the History Channel, it was subsequently removed from its lineup and all references to it were removed from its website (please verify for yourself). I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about this event to read Carroll Case’s book “The Slaughter: An American Atrocity” (available on Amazon) and the U.S. Army report “A Historical Analysis of the 364th Infantry in WWII.” Weigh the evidence and decide for yourself (although I find it extremely peculiar that this video has gone missing from TV and the web on several occasions).
What Really Happened to the Soldiers of the 364th by Newsweek Staff on 5/18/01
The Slaughter: An American Atrocity by Carroll Case
When documentary producer Greg DeHart agreed to do a show about a black World War II Army unit and its experiences at a Mississippi training base in 1943, he thought he was doing a piece on how urban legends survived over time.
But in “Mystery 0f the 364th,” which airs on the History Channel on May 20, DeHart has stepped into a 60-year-old controversy: Were rebellious members of the 364th Infantry Regiment (Negro) killed by the score at Camp Van Dorn by their fellow soldiers, and the deaths covered up by the Army?
Or is the persistent talk of multiple deaths at the base merely a rumor that won’t die, as the Army has long contended, passed down and embellished over the years?
DeHart and a crew spent more than a year piecing together the program, traveling to Mississippi several times. Even so, “Mystery of the 364th” doesn’t answer the crucial questions. But it does add new voices to the debate, especially Malcolm LaPlace, a feisty former 364th soldier, who told the documentary makers that his signature was forged on a key document.
In an interview with NEWSWEEK, LaPlace expanded on his charge and added startling new details: he accuses the Army of covering up the deaths of fellow soldiers by listing them as AWOL in regimental journals. LaPlace, who served as the regiment’s clerk, said he is the one who made the changes at the request of the regiment commander, Col. John F. Goodman, who has since died.
“I worked with Col. Goodman for day after day, month after month. I sat at a desk right outside his office door,” LaPlace told NEWSWEEK. “ I recall on four different occasions he had me revise journal entries. On one occasion he provided me with information for an entry that read 20 black soldiers had been found murdered. I typed it up and gave it to him. About an hour later he came back to me and he said, ‘Sergeant, I have given you the wrong information.’ What he gave me now read that 20 black soldiers were AWOL. Now how in hell do you go from murdered to absent without leave? That happened on three other occasions, when it was 10 [black soldiers murdered], and then about three, then one, all the same thing.”
Still, LaPlace says he never saw-or heard about-any mass shootings at Camp Van Dorn.
The Army has consistently maintained that only a single 364th trooper-Pvt. William Walker-died at Van Dorn, shot in the head by the local sheriff after an altercation with MPs outside the camp gates. After inquiries three years ago from Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson and the NAACP, teams of Army researchers spent a year combing through military archives in response to a book that alleged white soldiers killed 1,200 364th members at Van Dorn in the fall of 1943.
Using payroll documents and other personnel records, the Army said it had compiled a roster of nearly 4,000 men who had served in the 364th from May to December of 1943, its period at Van Dorn until their separation from military service, and that all but 20 could be accounted for.
The Army report, “A Historical Analysis of the 364th Infantry In World War II,” released on Christmas Eve 1999, also contained interviews with some surviving members of the 364th. None of the vets report the slightest experience of racial violence, let alone multiple deaths.
‘THERE ARE TOO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS’
The report still didn’t satisfy NAACP president Kwesi Mfume, who asked then attorney general Janet Reno to launch a separate investigation. Mfume repeats his call for a new probe in “Mystery of the 364th.” “There are too many unanswered questions,” he says.
That Van Dorn was a racial tinderbox in 1943 isn’t in dispute. With segregation the order of the day, racial friction was a constant at many military training bases. According to a 1996 study by Daniel Kryder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 209 military racial confrontations occurred at Army training bases between 1942 and 1945. None, however, have had the staying power of events at Camp Van Dorn.
As recounted in the hour-long documentary, the 364th arrived at the base in the spring of 1943 with a reputation for being rowdy. The group had clashed with a black military police squad in Phoenix the year before. The firefight lasted all night, according to military documents, resulting in at least 14 wounded, including soldiers, civilians and local police, and three deaths. Nineteen members of the 364th were court-martialed for their roles in the disturbances.
Within days of arriving by train in Centreville, Miss., trouble broke out, first at a black service club on base, then at a camp exchange. Military police had to break up the fight. A group of 364th troops marched in formation through downtown Centreville the next night and were met by civil police aided by local whites armed with shotguns. The group dispersed after MPs arrived, and returned to the base.
Then on May 30, 1943, Pvt. Walker was shot and killed by the Wilkinson County Sheriff. As word spread through the barracks of Walker’s Company A, angry men began to spill into the street. Some threatened to break into the supply room for rifles and ammunition, according to Army investigative reports. A group of men did storm the supply room of another company, and a black MP riot squad was called out. Shots were fired into the crowd, wounding one soldier in the leg, according to the Army documents.
Aided by a black chaplin, Col. Goodman was able to restore order, and the 364th was confined to its barracks.
‘OUTSIDE BAD INFLUENCES’
Local whites feared the outspoken Northern-born soldiers were an “outside bad influence,” as local industrialist Hollis Crosby, told Army investigators on June 1, 1943, after the Walker shooting.
The earliest report of rumors of multiple deaths at Van Dorn appears to have come from the Centreville mayor at the time, Omer Carroll. According to declassified Army documents, Carroll reported that “there have been rumors (of) anywhere from one to 50 men killed.”
The story remained a tale passed down by grandfathers in southwest Mississippi until 1989, when soldier-turned-investigative-journalist Ronald Ridenhour picked it up from a McComb, Miss., banker named Carol Case.
Ridenhour, who investigated the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and later became the major source for Seymour Hersh’s account of that wartime atrocity, was intrigued by Case’s account of a confession from a former MP named Bill Martzall, who claimed to have taken part in shooting scores of unarmed black soldiers in a single night. Martzall died in 1989.
Ridenhour launched his own investigation, securing thousands of pages of classified World War II documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, looking for something that might help prove or disprove the Van Dorn story.
DISMISSED AS ‘FICTION’
When Ridenhour died of a heart attack in 1998, banker Case turned writer and published his own account of alleged Van Dorn deaths in a controversial book, “The Slaughter.” The book’s astonishing claim that more than 1,000 members of the 364th were murdered by MPs at the base brought national attention-and led to the 1999 Army report that dismissed the book as “fiction.”
Among the documents obtained by Ridenhour was the Regimental Journal of the 364th, a daily house keeping record prepared by the Regimental clerk. He also tracked down the clerk, LaPlace, now 79, and suffering from diabetes.
LaPlace says Ridenhour showed him a Journal dated in 1942 with his signature- a year before he was inducted in the army. “Only one thing could have happened,” he tells producer DeHart, “someone has falsified a record using my signature.”
Adding to the intrigue, the program notes, not a single entry appears in the journal during the 364th’s time at Van Dorn from May until November 1943, when the unit left for Alaska’s the Aleutian Islands. “There is nothing, nothing at all concerning camp Van Dorn,” says LaPlace. “That is a mystery to me. I wrote the reports, where are they?”
Lt. Col. Charles Graul of the Center for Military History, who headed up the Army’s investigation downplays the journal as an administrative document with “little significance” in the program.
“No one we interviewed knew of any incidents except for the Walker shooting,” says Graul in the program. But LaPlace, who was not interviewed for the Army report, stands by his charge. “If the colonel or the people at the Pentagon, if they question my integrity, tell them I will submit to a polygraph in a heartbeat,” he told NEWSWEEK.
‘I DIDN’T QUESTION HIM’
LaPlace says he changed the entries in the regimental journal because he had no choice. “When [Col. Goodman] handed me the revised entry, I didn’t question him,” he says. “How in the hell could I?”
One entry in an earlier regimental journal found in Army archives suggests sanitizing entries wasn’t unusual even before the unit arrived in Mississippi: “Regarding Col. Goodman’s request of the IG [inspector general’s report] all previous records of destruction of property, shootings, etc. are to be disregarded and a new set of records started,” reads a Nov. 29, 1942, entry when the unit was encamped at Papago Park in Phoenix. The Army says that Goodman didn’t want the regiment to be unfairly portrayed before it moved on to Mississippi.
Of Goodman, who by most accounts was one of the fairest of the white officers in charge of black units, LaPlace says: “I think the man had a strong sense of integrity, and when that information was provided to him, he decided to tell the truth. But then he must have communicated with someone up the command and they told him, I’m assuming this, to let’s water this thing down, there was enough crap going on at Van Dorn as it is.”
LaPlace says Goodman’s actions “astonished me, but who in the hell was I to question him? “
Born in New Orleans, LaPlace was selected for a specialized training program after completing basic training, and joined the 364th sometime after the unit had left Arizona for Mississippi. (He does not recall, and the Army reports only lists his induction date). LaPlace said he never heard reports of mass shootings of black soldiers at Van Dorn, but he recalls being in fear during his entire time at the camp.
‘WE WERE EXPECTED TO RIOT’
“When I got there we were isolated at one end of the camp,” he recalls.” I was amazed and shocked there were half-tracks and white soldiers manning 50-caliber machine guns aimed down the regiment streets. Black soldiers were feared. We were expected to riot.”
Once after returning from an outing in town with two other black soldiers, LaPLace said the group was stopped at the base gate by white MPs and ordered out of the car they were riding in: “You three niggers get out of this car right away.'” he quotes the MP. “We got out of the car, and I had the audacity to ask them what had we done? He said, ‘You black bastard, keep your mouth shut.’ So when I asked him again, he slapped me across my head with the stock of his rifle. When I woke up I was in the stockade, and there was Col. Goodman arguing with the provost captain in charge of the MPs. Col. Goodman was saying, ‘Release this man into my custody.'”
When the captain appeared to balk, LaPlace said, “He told the captain, ‘Look, you son of a bitch. I’m not going to argue with you. Release this man, or I’ll have your bars in the next five seconds.’ With that, I was released.”
The experience had a lasting effect, LaPlace recalls. “After that incident, I did not emerge from the camp,” he says. “It was so bad, at least in my barracks, we decided after 5 p.m. not to emerge from our barracks. The latrine was in a separate building, and you had to walk about 50 yards. Man, we were scared to death that one of these white MPs might gun us down. So we decided to pull up some floor boards at one end of the barracks, and some guy had gotten a large bag of lime. So we did whatever we had to do right there and then covered it with lime. It was that bad. It was awful, awful. It has been the most unpleasant experience of my life.”